LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Tess Johnson is one of the youngest women on the U.S. moguls team. But that isn’t stopping the 18-year-old.
As a light snow fell on Lake Placid’s Whiteface Mountain, Johnson skied her way into the hotly contested six-woman super final, then finished third. With 72.22 points, Johnson finished behind Australia’s Jakara Anthony (78.76) and Olympic gold medalist and current world cup leader Perrine Laffont from France (74.94).
It’s Johnson’s third world cup podium in her young career and second this season.
“To get a second podium just this season is huge because my goal this year was to ski consistently in super finals,” she said. “And now that I’ve made four out of five [super finals], I’m feeling really confident and excited to meet my goal.”
Johnson made the U.S. team when she was 14 — the youngest moguls skier ever named to the U.S. team. From Vail, Colorado, Johnson is the granddaughter of legendary sports journalist William Oscar Johnson, who wrote for Sports Illustrated for 27 years. Tess’ father accompanied his father to the 1989 alpine skiing world championships in Vail and stayed. The Colorado mountains were young Tess’ playground.
Since making the U.S. team four years ago, Johnson has bounded up the ladder, winning a silver medal at the 2016 junior world championships. She made her world cup debut the same season.
So what has catapulted Johnson onto the world cup podium? Fun, she said, pointing to the camaraderie of having so many friends on the team. And two of her friends — Jaelin Kauf, who’s currently second in the world cup moguls standings, and Morgan Schild — made the super final too. Kauf ended up fourth; Schild, who is 10 months out from tearing her ACL, was fifth.
The three women hoped to sweep the podium in Lake Placid and hugged each other after they fell just short.
“To watch the girls support each other, on the way up the lift and here in the finish, they’re cheering each other on as they’re finishing, that’s the kind of positive energy they can carry forward,” said head coach Matt Gnoza. “That’s one of the things we’re really striving for, to have a team in an individual sport, and whoever’s having the day, we’re going to support that person and carry them forward. The team has really bought into that concept, and it’s been a lot of fun this year.”
Johnson’s podium finish continued a remarkable streak in the annals of moguls skiing. Whiteface has hosted world cup moguls competitions almost every year since 1985 — seven years before moguls made its Olympic debut. In those 28 world cup events, American women have finished on the podium in all but two (1988 and 2003). Olympic gold medalists Donna Weinbrecht and Hannah Kearney both won here five times, and in 2010 Kearney led a U.S. podium sweep.
The American men have not been quite as successful on the Whiteface moguls course. They have missed the podium nine times, most recently this year. But they came close. Olympians Casey Andringa and Bradley Wilson made it to the six-man super final, ending up fourth and sixth.
“A little bummed with myself because all I had to do was not mess up on that last run and I would have been on the podium,” Andringa said, although he looked far from disappointed. “I missed my grab on the top air a little bit and it kind of threw me off for the rest of the run.”
France’s Ben Cavet won, beating the usually dominant Mikael Kingsbury (who fell to fifth after a rare mistake on his top air) of Canada. Walter Wallberg from Sweden and Matt Graham from Australia rounded out the podium.
For Andringa, 23, it was his best world cup finish ever, and it bodes well for 2019 world championships, which begin in Utah in early February. Andringa credited the momentum that started last season with his fifth-place finish at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“It all happened so fast and was so surreal that I couldn’t really process it all until afterwards,” he said of making the Olympic team after only two world cup appearances. “Now I feel like this is really the first world cup tour, and I’m actually learning how to ski it. Hopefully, we’ll get one [a podium] in Tremblant [next week] and world championships.”
Andringa was particularly happy that his good result will lower his bib number (bib numbers reflect world cup standings). He started the season with bib 12 and competed at Whiteface with the same number. In the next world cup, he’ll wear bib 9.
Asked if he and his brother Jesse, who finished 16th, spent the summer living in a camper again and traveling the continent to train as they had before the PyeongChang Games, Andringa said no, they had upgraded to an apartment in Park City, Utah, where they could train with the U.S. team.
But they are rethinking apartment life. Mostly, the monthly rent — “because we’re there like seven days out of 30,” said Andringa. “I slept in my car more than I slept in that apartment.”
“We decided the apartment life is not for us,” he added. “I think we’re going to go back to the woods, or something, next summer.”
Behind Andringa, veteran Wilson couldn’t quite match his third-place finish from 2017 — the last time Whiteface hosted a world cup moguls competition. Since then, the competition has intensified, with skiers doing more and more difficult jumps. This time, Wilson was happy to have made the super final.
“It’s insane in how good everybody is now,” he said. “It used to be like 10 to 15 really good skiers. Now the whole field is insane. It’s sweet.”
Coach Gnoza is optimistic about world championships, which highlight this post-Olympic season.
“The beginning of the year was not what we wanted,” said Gnoza of the men. “But they’ve been scratching and clawing and really working to get where they are. … Talking with Casey, he really skied today like who he is. He believed in himself. Brad returned to form today too and looked like Brad. It didn’t go quite to the podium, but it was a great step moving forward to Deer Valley and world champs in a couple weeks. So, they’re moving in a good direction.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.